Festival in pictures: how the Sarajevo Film Festival industry is shaping Balkan talent to meet the global demands of film and TV

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It may be Maša Marković’s first year as head of industry at the Sarajevo Film Festival, but for the permanent festival staff, it’s business as usual.

Long regarded as the leading industry hub for South East European film professionals, CineLink Industry Days has played a vital role in shaping talent and expanding content and co-productions in the region. This year marks the 20th anniversary of its co-production market, which presents ten of the region’s most promising feature film projects in development and, Marković says, this year’s part is better than ever.

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“We’re really focused on the quality of projects and what we can co-create,” she says. “That’s been our focus for a long time, and that’s why our place in the European market is very important because it’s really focused on a high level of curation.”

The industry prides itself on facilitating budding voices and building them from the ground up. Over the years, it has carefully created an ecosystem where the potential journey for talent can begin by networking and building contacts during the event, then pitching to the co-production market and, in the next phase, traveling to its work in progress section for a hopeful festival premiere.

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“It is so important to us that we follow these talents in the early stages of their careers and support them during the five or six most important years of their careers,” said Marković, of the market, which is being launched in collaboration with the Doha Film Institute and takes as a result a guest project from the MENA region.

Sarajevo Film Festival

Six years ago, the festival launched its CineLink Drama section, a co-funding forum that presents six high-quality drama series in development from the region to major European and regional broadcasters, VoD and SVoD operators and distributors.

“We launched this at a time when there was no money for TV drama in the region and we wanted to help drive the change,” says Marković. “We have amazing talents in writing, directing and producing and this whole shift to the drama series industry requires a different production setup, different base material and different skills. Our idea at the beginning was that eventually the money will come if the people are skilled enough and if you don’t have the skills for the very first transition, it won’t work.”

Their efforts are working: One of the previous winners of the CineLink Drama section was the Croatian series The Last Socialist Artifactwhich was screened last year during Series Mania, while the Croatian-Ukrainian series The silencewhich also grew out of the festival’s drama section, was acquired by HBO Max this year.

“We knew we had to push the industry in a certain direction, and we had to encourage people by helping them develop their ideas and understand how the international networks and international television communities work,” she says.

Marković is proud of what she describes this year as an “incredibly strong” section in progress and while it normally selects only ten projects, it chose 12 this year.

“This section gives a really good insight into how vibrant this part of the world really is in terms of artistic quality,” she says.

A key industry guideline this year is to focus on educating young producers in the region to meet content demand as it launches its first CineLink Producers’ Lab. Nineteen young producers have been selected to participate in the programme, which will see them join a network of senior producers and gain a better understanding of the digital supply chain changes in the market.

“We’ve noticed that there is currently a lack of this whole new generation of junior producers who have spent the beginning of their career behind scenes because of the pandemic and have not been able to meet other people,” she says. “This year we decided to launch CineLink Producers’ Lab to connect junior producers with senior producers with a wealth of experience and contacts. This is so important because they will be the next generation of manufacturing talent that will propel this industry forward.”

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